A guest article by Jane
Before I was a parent I was a Buddhist, now I’m a Buddhist parent, well – I’m learning to be. I’ve only had three years practice! But here are some of my experiences so far…
In my Buddhist years BC (before child) I tried to meditate, spent time looking at how my mind was behaving, tried to cultivate love for everyone and not see faults. Of course my Buddhist practice has had its highs and lows over the years but I genuinely felt it made me happier, stronger, and that I had a real way of helping others. I could deal with things in a more positive, clear and wiser way than I could before. I studied, read and contemplated Buddha’s teachings. I even had a bit of a routine going with my formal practice! (on a good day).
Then I became a parent and experienced the strange phenomena of having absolutely no time for anything despite being awake 5 or 6 hours more in a 24 hour period than I was before. Whenever I did have the chance to meditate I’d fall asleep. I was so pleased with myself if I managed to get to the supermarket on the first attempt without having to return home to change a poopy nappy/feed/pick up forgotten purse, that actually sitting down to do my formal practice seemed like a fantasy. Would this ever change, I wondered to myself as I read ‘Peter Puppy’, my Dharma books gathering dust on the bookcase.
With parenthood came anxieties about the baby I’d never had before, what if she gets ill, hurt, will she be ok at nursery, school, what if someone is nasty to her? I shall have to personally approve of any partner she may have when she is grown up of course….what happens to her when I die? I was worried about dying anyway, now I’m doubly worried!
There were only two options I could think of – I could put her in some kind of cotton-wool filled stasis so she would never have to experience any suffering or try to show her how to deal with the things life throws at us all. I don’t mean ‘make ‘ her a Buddhist, that’s her choice, I mean to bring her up in a way which empowers her to know how to be happy, to be content, to understand impermanence, and understand and deal with difficulties, to really help others, to be kind and ….how? well, I thought to myself, I’d better try to live that life myself, and, as a bit of a back up, for when my Dharma practice is a bit flaky, I can make sure she is surrounded by lots of people who are practising Dharma. I think that one of the best things you can do for a little one is bring them up to know how to be happy. (and NO young lady, you don’t NEED to watch a certain cartoon pig for one hour non-stop to be happy!)
There are many things which being a parent makes you work at, such as love without attachment, patience, and compassion. Accepting defeat and offering the victory is a daily practice (Oh look, what an interesting shape you’ve bent my glasses into, now they will fit teddy!) Luckily these are the same things that we work on as Buddhists, which means that being a parent has no contradiction with the Buddhist path, hooray! Indeed you get a little extra help with your practice because there’s a little someone making you practise patience, someone whose needs you have to put before your own, and that little someone is utterly dependent upon you to do your best for them. They bring many tendencies and habits with them which are hard to put into context in their daily lives as children. It can be very challenging! However you know they have appeared as your child in this life because you have strong karma together, and because you love them so much you want to do your best, it’s easy to be selfless in a way you didn’t know you could be.
It’s true that you don’t always get the time for the ‘formal’ practice, you don’t get to go to as many formal teachings as perhaps you would like to but it’s just a different path. You have a little Teacher right in front of you who is holding a mirror up to your own mind, showing you what you need to work on. Then occasionally you have a glimmer of a thought – how amazing it would be to care for all living beings in the same way as I care for this little one! To feel as much responsibility for their happiness as I do for hers.
The marvellous journey of parenthood as a Buddhist: next stop – the beautiful mind of Bodhichitta! (once I’ve got a good night’s sleep of course….)
Take this further: Family Meditation Classes